The process of converting trash into energy could soon become a reality as the company Geoplasma intends to build a gasification plant in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The technology for gasification has been around for a long time, but this would be the first commercial plant to operate in the U.S. As explained by Matthew McDermott, writing for treehugger, the process works by placing trash in a plasma converter, and vaporizing the organic components in a stream of plasma heated up to 10,000 degrees F. The syngas and steam produced from the process are used to drive an electric turbine to produce electricity.
As reported by Melinda Wenner for Scientific American, the proposed plant could process 1,500 tons of trash each day, generating 60 megawatts of electricity – enough to power about 50,000 homes. The process produces less emissions that standard incineration, and reduces the volume of landfills and the methane they release. Inorganic wastes such as metals would settle out at the bottom and could be recovered and reused in heavy construction projects.
TCPalm in Florida reports in June 2010 that Geoplasma has received a permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The permit requires the plant to meet county emissions standards, which are stricter than state standards. The fact that the permit was issued provides backing for the science and engineering behind the trash gasification concept and shows that the process can meet emissions standards. The permit also allows Geoplasma to go ahead with a lease agreement for property in the St. Lucie County landfill and negotiate with power companies to sell the electricity the plant generates.
The St. Lucie plant is expected to have a construction cost of $120 million. As reported on American Recycler, the St. Lucie County Board of County Commissioners approved the construction of the plant in 2007. The project will be owned and financed by Geoplasma through taxable, non-taxable and industrial development revenue bonds and the company’s own equity. Residents of St. Lucie County will not pay any of the cost, and the project could create new skilled jobs in the area.
According to Geoplasma president, Hilburn Hilestad, the plant could be open by March, 2013. Assistant County Solid Waste Director, Ron Roberts, hopes that the plant will eventually be able to eliminate all the waste in the landfill.
Geoplasma LLC, formed in March 2003, is part of the Jacoby Group, which operates in the real estate, education, energy and healthcare sectors, “with an emphasis on sustaining the environment and seeking solutions for tomorrow’s generations”.
Eric Pfahler, “State environmental permits OK’d for trash-zapping plant in St. Lucie” – TCPalm
Florida county approves first United States plasma gasification facility – American Recycler
Geoplasma – Jacoby Group
Matthew McDermott, “US’s First Plasma Gasification Waste-to-Energy Plant Online by 2011” – treehugger
Melinda Wenner, “Plasma Turns Garbage into Gas” – Scientific American